By: Ambarr Dishwataah
“What is your name?”
“Bellia” I said.
The man chuckled. Something about his voice made me think of a serpent. The one that poisoned St. Temusu and tried to ruin the return of peace.
His rather large hand reached out to pat my head but I ducked behind my mother’s skirt. The snake man stood up tall then, a jovial grin crinkling his nose, just the way a snake’s nose would crinkle if it laughed. I hissed at him. Mom shushed me.
One hand moved to trace his jaw. The other drew out a leather fold.
“You got a card yet? Naw, you don’t. Fresh boaties, so the cash discount applies. I’ll give you twenty ISK for her. You know what an ISK is?”
Mom put her free hand across me, protectively. The other was wrapped eternally around my baby sister, and the two food bars the lady had given her. Mom slowly backed up, pressing me into the crowd behind us. But the crowd wouldn’t yield. No one wanted to be on the edge. An old woman told me that was where the vultures fed. Snake man grabbed mom’s arm, leaning in close, whispering.
“You know your all headed for the Republic camps. That girl won’t be left in one piece. In the camps, there isn’t enough food and she won’t sell for half as much. No one down there’s got anything. Especially not isk. And there’s no way out.”
He flashed some metal rectangles under my mothers eyes. I could see her pupils follow them for just a moment. She held my sister closer to her chest.
“I’ll make sure she’s got a good life-educated even. And this is enough to feed you, and that tiny one, for a year at least.”
My mothers arm of protection slackened.
“Hay! Get away from there!” came a high pitched shout.
The man shoved my mother down, flinging the metal bars to glitter on the ground where she fell. His hand came, just like a snake strike wrapping fully around my wrist. The huddle of my kind backed away. I struck at him. Fists punching to the stiff fabric of his jacket. He laughed. I looked to the crowd of my fellow Amarrians. There was a surge of movement, but it was not to reclaim me. Three men who had prevented me and mom from wiggling into the crowd were now throwing themselves to the front, trying to grab the monies. Mom screamed, rolling to shelter her baby, or maybe rolling to guard the isk, I wasn’t sure. She had always said she wanted monies. Mistress had given her a coin once. This was a lot more-I think.
“Mom” I screamed. The man twisted my arm up. I yelped. My feet tripping as I was dragged across the metal floor. One sandal dangled off my big toe, and then it was lost. My bare foot set down to the course metal tread of the station.
“Hush” he hissed. His free hand coming across my face-lightly. “You will have a much better life with me.”
My hand reached for the wooden sun dangling on my chest. The symbol of God. He would help me. He would help me help myself. I reached up and poked the snake man in the eye.
“You little shit.” He jerked me up onto my tippy toes. His hand grabbing my chin.
It was then I noticed them. Three very large men-eyes shadowed, were there, wild Matari. Each was clad all in leather and canvas, belts with more pockets than any man could ever need, and very, very long knives in the belts. The littlest one, and when I say little he would still be imposing to master Talobut’s biggest guard, his face was all drawn with green and black lines like a water ripple and the sun beams of a raging hot day. The three surrounded us. My heart, I felt it in my neck where Snake held my chin. I must not be worthy of love. God has left me.
Snake man dropped me. I curled up, my eyes watching. The littlest one barked something. The snake growled “Quota” and backed up, his eyes flashing between power and fear. He turned, stepping a bit toward me. One of the men, the one with the red bandanna on his head countered him, shoving him forward again. Snake struck then, elbowing to push away. The third man caught him by the shoulder. Red Bandanna grabbed his other arm. The little man took his wallet, shaking it before tucking it into one of the many belt pockets. And then they began to beat him. No knives were drawn, just bloody fists.
I kissed my symbol, crawling to a stand, backing away from them. A tooth flew with a splatter of saliva and blood. I was sure it was snake’s tooth.
The third man, wrinkled of face but definitely not a tottering grandpa-stopped the fists with a shoulder shake and a pointing. A set of five properly uniformed men all in brown were heading towards us. The station security staff. Snake wiggle away, or they let him go. The three with the blood stained fists left in a hurry. The brown uniforms following them. Snake’s trail of blood led to a corner where he dabbed at his mouth.
I turned around. The crowd of my fellow indentured surged like the lake minnow schools when I dropped in crumbs. The strange blue dressed women were back, handing out water and more food bars. I looked for the hunched shape of my mother in the sea of same-faced, same dressed beings. She was there, no longer in the front. Not watching for me. She had moved inward, hiding. I blinked. Mom was lost to those waves.
A curly haired woman bent down, the proffered goods poked toward me. My hands found flex to wrap around the water pouch and food bar.
“There you go honey,” the nice lady said. She patted me on the head and nudged me toward the crowd. Her skirt was too short!
Along the far wall, I saw them come out of a door-more real, wild Matari warriors. Each dressed as something from the dark fables. Two men and two women. Beards on the men. Fierce patterns on the faces of all and each had a long stick adorned with bright colors and a sigil molded into it. Mistress said the Matari practiced dark magic with such things. As we had waited on the docks mother had taught me how to name the tribes; Greed, Vainglory, Sloth, Gluttony- there were suppose to be seven of them-she said. Envy, Lust, and Wrath were missing. Or maybe it was Vainglory and Wrath? The old man with the long beard looked more like Envy than Vainglory to me, even though he had many silver badges, gold trappings, and beads braided into his beard. There eyes all looked, assessing us indentured, like a master, buying and choosing. But I knew that they were not at all like any proper master.
As the crowd lined up to receive the gifts to live, the middle person, a woman with reddish hair held back in a pony tail, leaned her stick out, pointing at the woman who was pushed to the first in line. Wide eyes of the woman met back to the fierce stare of the wild Matari. A ring of red tags was unhooked from the Matari belt. The tag was offered to the woman.
“Quota” the woman said.
A woman in blue talked quiet to the indentured. The woman took the red tag, and moved toward a door. Eyes darting back to the crowd she now left behind.
It began happening then, all at once. The crowd pressing forward to the blue clad attendants. The strange line of Matari passing out each their own colored chips. Some indentured even ignored the food line and went up to the warriors, bowing, kneeling, begging, for a colored tag. Sometimes a chip was offered, most times the sticks were used as sticks. The word ‘Quota’ rose loud above the din. The unchosen were ushered down a further corridor.
Mom had told me not to go with any of them. They were rebellious to the truth, infidels, impure. I touched my wooden symbol. Mistress had given it to me before we were forced to leave. She said to let God choose my path, or evil would surly steal my soul. But of the five paths before me, which one? Or perhaps none of those. Grampy Gordon said there was always another choice if you can see enough to see it.
“Guide us in all we do.” I prayed to my symbol. I took off my one sandal. The other sandal was gone and I didn’t want to limp. I tucked it and my ration into my dress fold. That’s was what the fold was for, carrying my lunch when it was a garden day. I inched toward the guards, at the back, away from the Minmatar door, away from the corridor of the masses. Back towards the large station door we had been herded through not to long ago. My three saviors had left that way. No one else helped me. They were bold in this stench of a station. If God put them there to save me, then I had to be for them.
I moved slowly toward the edge, not looking at the door or the guards. It was like sneaking up on a black fowl, if you looked at them, they knew you were coming that way. In a flash I turned, slipping between the brown uniform. A shout of “hay!” chased after me.
Beyond the bay doors, there was a world. Walls of shops selling everything from clothing to parts. Scores of dark people, in leather, metal flashing, shoulder held back, heads high, and too many pockets, Matari people. There were even some children. A brown jacketed guard was moving slowly toward me, his hand beckoning. Another was waving to the attentions of those nearest me. I dared to look one in the eye. She looked down at me. Her hair was cropped short, eyes as dark as the night sky. Face painted with freckles and a dancing trace of some alien flower. Someone must have cut her hair. She must have been bad. So many women here had their hair cut. It was just like the Mistress said, thieves, criminals, impure. I pulled my chestnut braid in close to my neck. No one was aloud to steal it. I ducked away from the woman, into the tide of beings moving out.
Weaving in and out of passing bodies put distance between me and the brown uniforms. It was a good thing I was small. Close to the wall seemed to open up a path. I climbed up a container, crouching low. The station trembled beneath me. I knew my mother would be yelping with the tremors. I didn’t care. Ground wasn’t suppose to be alive. But a station in space was alive and turning. I knew the tremor was a ship moving, a big one. That was where I wanted to be-on a big ship.
From my vantage the red bandanna man became a beacon. I saw him, just turning a corner. “Big Red” I named him, sorting him into my mind of knowing. I slipped down the container’s other side, weaseling my way through the crowd again.
“Hay there, stop!” shouted the guard. Of course he could spot me. I was the only one wearing a brown terry dress. I didn’t stop though. I turned the corner, tripping into a heap over someones big boot. Tears came, but I stood up, dabbing the blood from my knee scrape. I could see Big Red turning down a hall. I followed him up the auto-stairs. I kept stepping high so my toes wouldn’t get sucked into the floor.
I turned down another hall where I saw him turn, stopping up short. It was a dock. A huge dock with a ship as long as my Holders barn. It looked like a caterpillar and it was twice bigger than the leaky rust slug master had made us board. It was bigger than I had ever thought a ship could be. And Big Red disappeared into the wide open cargo door of it.
There was so much space up and down, I wondered how no one fell off the edge. I watched as a lift car came, laden with boxes, driving with two women, one hanging off the back. The floppy hatted guard didn’t even look up at them.
I approached, peering into the dark. Metal bolted to metal with rust and shiny panels were fixed to everything. The guard didn’t move. He seemed to be watching a screen in his hand. I stood up straight. If I walked like I belonged, no one would notice me. I could go right in. Ten lengths- five lengths, one length-.
“Stop, there kid.” Came a sharp voice. Floppy hat man, he was next to me in three strides. I stepped away from him, tripping against a container. It teetered. Floppy hat grabbed my arm, tugging me away.
“Thieves loose their hands- the lucky ones that is.” He snarled. But his eyes were bright. I didn’t believe him.
“I’m not a thief” I said.
“And I’m not a prince.” He said. “What r’ you doing here mite?” he said. His eyes suddenly scanning the docks before they came back to me. His eyes were not fierce, but his grip certainly was.
I looked him right in the eye. “Quota” I said.
He laughed like a jack- hawing to wake the hands. “Who’s Quota’d you. Where’s your mum.”
“Here- the short tattoo guy and Big Red, the guy with the bandanna.” I said pointing to the ship.
“No-no-no.” He snorted. The two women had come back, walking this time. He beckoned them over. “Laursa, Bennish, look, boss sent us a Quota.” He held up my hand. I wiggled it away from him. He didn’t know how to glower, but I knew I could.
“Careful Jester. She’s a thief scout.”
“I am not a thief!” I said.
“Yeah I looked. There isn’t anyone on the docks. I think she followed the captain. Now tell me small fry, what do you expect to do for us?”
He stared at me. The one called Bennish gave me a proper squint eye. The hum of dock machines, and some distant horn sounded. I had no idea what one does on a ship.
Bennish leaned in. “Bet she fixes nano-coolers”
“Mite box mining maybe?” Jester said.
“Polishing the low knobs. I hate bending down that far.” Laursa said.
They were making fun of me. Each job was fake. I could tell. But I remembered one job for indentured in space. A job Mistress told me about it, and that I surly could be qualified to do.
“Fedos. I can herd your fedos.” I said. I stood up straight. Squared out my shoulders. I knew how to herd sheep, grebadoon, donkeys, and black fowl. Blackfowl were hardest to herd. As long as fedo weren’t faster than them, I could figure it out. If I looked it, then I could maybe do it. They just had to let me try. I folded my hands, and bowed.
The dock machines hummed. Jester turned away-walking quickly back to his post. I could hear him snorting, trying desperately to catch his breath. He pounded the ship plating. Was he choking? Bennish stood up then. Her face masked.
“If you’re a real Fedo herder- you’ll know how to use this-” She turned and looked around, grabbing up a length of copper pipe, thin with a split end going each way in a twist. She poked the fat end at me. I stiffened my gaze, and grabbed it. If I looked it, I could fake it, until I could do it. I would learn. My hand ran over to the twisty end.
“Yes- you will know how to use a khumaak” Laursa said. Jester fell over again.
“Take me to your fedos” I said, brandishing the copper plated khumaak. I really had never seen a fedo. Lady Ellia, the mistress’s daughter said they were like giant slugs. She was often kind when I questioned.
Laursa led the way. Bennish cuffed Jester when he tried to follow.
“But I need to see- the skill.” He said.
“No you idiot. Your on guard. You leave the bay door and you’ll be complaining about your half rations for the week. Captain will know.
“Film- the technique. I must-“ he brandished his data pad.
“Bay 3- camera’s 34 through 37. Just watch them like your suppose to.”
Data pad, and cameras- I knew what they were for, but I had never had permission to hold one. Once I had my picture taken by Lady Ellia, but she erased it before I could see it. We all got to watch a halo-film every eighth day- if I was good. My favorite was St. Austinate the Paladin, and the Udorian thief. Her good heart and crafty ways save the day. The thief ends up pledging undying love to her, serving her onto his death for the Emperor of Amarr. St Austinate wasn’t really a Paladin, but they made her an honorary one when she died. Maybe if I herded the fedo well, they would let me watch it again.
We went down the ship corridors. I counted the turns like in the mistresses house so I could find my way. When we were taken up in the haller, we were only aloud to stay in the hold bay. But now I got to see everything. There were so many boxes and nets of things tied to the walls. This ship was also stinky like the back end of a diuretic cat. I clutched the khumaak and kept my hands to myself.
Laursa looked back to make sure I was following. Bennish was right behind me. Her open hands shooed me forward. Laursa stopped in the door to a large room, her hand poking the panel on the wall. A weak light rose to illuminate my fate. The room was mostly empty. A corner has some boxes strapped to the wall.
“Here, bay 3. This room’s full of them. Just show us your stuff, and- I’ll give you-a station coin. Two if you do it right. You can buy a Quafe or something.”
I don’t really know what a Quafe is. But I wouldn’t tell them. Maybe it was a tool for fedo herders?
Laursa and Bennish, I knew they weren’t holders, they were sinners. But they weren’t like me. So they had to be greater. And they were obviously my superiors on this ship. So I would treat them so.
“At your command.” I bowed-to her and Bennish. When I looked up, I could see the discomfort on their faces. It must have been the wrong thing. A funny kind of sorrow played at their eyes. They went away, closing the door behind them.
I walked into the middle of the bay. Bits of everything was piled into various corners and more than a few rusty spots bloomed in clusters on the floor and walls. I would have to scrub for a year to clean this room. And then I would have to start over because it would be dirty again.
So where were the fedo? They probably were in the corners and such. The pile of boxes would be an ideal shelter spot.
I turned the khumaak in my hands as I patrolled to the bay edge and the pile of boxes. I could really look at the tool now without seeming ignorant. The thin spirally end was flimsy with two of the tubes being flexible and three of them rigid. There was a spike too, and three brackets complete with bolts, nuts, and washers were afixed along its length. I stuck my fingers into one of the tubes. The low light made it hard to see inside. But when I breathed into the end it came out the other. It was hollow all the way through.
I flipped it around and looked into the handle end of the khumaak, my bare foot made contact with one of the piles of detritus. It squished as I kicked it, tickling thorns brushing against my ankle. I froze in horror, realizing what I had done. There they were- every pile of rusty trash on floor and wall- was a fedo. And I had kicked one. Hurting your livestock would at best result in a lash. If I killed it, I was sure to get beaten.
The pale red lump had landed on its back. A round mouth worked in the air as the tiny claw legs waved like a beetles. I reached down to right it and the tiny claws grabbed my hands, pulling it to my fist. Shudders were held back with shear will. I desperately wanted to shake it off, but if I threw it- it could die.
“Breath. Breath.” I told myself. It wasn’t hurting me. It just prickled with it’s tiny feet. The mouth felt like a gouder’s tongue. The weight of it was solid.
Now was the time to learn. I picked up my khumaak, maneuvering the stiff tube ends under the fedo’s body. But it kept slipping through the gaps. If the tube was as wide as my arm I could load the fedo into it, but it was not.
I set the khumaak down and gripped the fedo by the back. It was cold and felt like an overipe daou fruit. A more pungent stink was apparent. Clawed tentacles angled up toward the invading hand as I gently squeezed, pealing it off my right hand. With a hop I set it down and whipped my left hand away so it could not affix to it. That seemed to work. Maybe the khumaak only guided a group? At least with sheep, the crook could catch one.
I patted the fedo’s jelly back. Slowly it began to side away, its little hooked tentacles undulating. I searched through the dim light of the room, making a count with my fingers and toes. I counted each three times. None of the fedo seemed to pay attention to me save for raising their claw tentacles if I poked them. How to prove my herding potential? With sheep herding they either followed you, or ran from you. It was easier if they followed but you had to have their trust. It is decided, I would earn their trust, one by one. The nearest fedo eagerly climbed to my proffered hand. I walked it to the far corner of the bay and slid it gently onto the flooring.
“One by one.” I counted off on my pinky finger.
It is impossible to tell the time without a sun, but moving the fedo took a long time. Almost all were in my corner now. Some were climbing the wall but they were in the herd. There were two hands and a foots worth up high on the wall and away from the scaffolding that I just couldn’t reach, even with my khumaak. But the rest were all together. And I even managed to grab the biggest one- I called her Gummy. She was as big as both my feet long. I hummed to her as I pealed her off the wall. she seemed to like it. The fedo didn’t seem to want to stay in the corner. I broke up my food bar, taking a bite for myself. The rest I crumbled around the flooring to feed them. I had a hard time poking open the water pouch too but I eventually got it to drip and squirt. A sip for me, a puddle for them. Gummy sat in the middle of the puddle.
No one checked on me yet, just the tap of footsteps in the hall. A yawn slipped out but I stopped it. It was not correct to sleep when a job was expected. But a shepherd slept with her flock. Fedo were kind of cold. I hoped a fedo shepherd didn’t sleep with their fedo. Maybe if I closed my eyes just a bit. I could hear them coming and could stand to attention then?
Tap-tap-tap of foot steps down the metal hall slowed to the door. Laursa and Bennish must be back to check on my skills! I quickly moved to the corner, squared my shoulders and looked down. My left hand on my khumaak, my right wrapped around God’s symbol. Secretly I sent out my will and prayer. Please fedo, please stay in my herd. I will feed you and tend you, and we will journey the stars together!
One leaned on my foot.
What were they even used for-fedo? Did we eat them? They didn’t smell like something anyone wanted to eat.
The bay door slid open. A giggling laughter echoed through the bay. It was not Laursa or Bennish. Two people entered, speaking in whispers. A man, and a woman- holding hands. Even I knew what that meant.
“Selka my soul and my stars, the Commander shouldn’t be kept waiting.” The man said
“We have an hour before you undock.” She replied. His vest clinked to the floor.
“And ‘I’ need to re-check my slasher.” He said.
“Your frigate is fine. I just want five minutes. Five! It will be two weeks before I can touch you again.” She said.
“Yes Captain. Then you’ll have all too much of me.” He said
“As if I could ever have too much of you.”
They were kissing. Lust, one of the seven tribes of sin- unless it was sanctioned by the master. And even then, no one was suppose know about it, and especially not watch. And most definitely not interrupt. Where was the door? They had closed it again.
A buzzer rang and the two jumped, but they still clung together. A voice came over in a fuzz of the speaker system.
“Captain, please report. Commander Berkist is waiting for you.” The voice of Jester sounded.
“Give me that-“ a deeper voice cut in. “I’m coming down to that bay, and you’d better have most of your cloths on.” He said. The com cut off.
The woman and man laughed. She moved in for another kiss. But their movement was stopped. The man pulled a little away. I froze. He was looking at me.
“Um-Selka- why are all the fedo in that corner. Is that-a child? With your refrigerant splitter?”
“Eh?” she said. “What-in the-mighty Eldars? Who are you?”
I bowed. “Captain-Selka, ma’am. ‘I’ am your new fedo herder” I said. I stuttered a bit but I think I seemed sure enough. A sure but humble voice.
The metal flooring made great echoes as the Captain tromped toward me. I turned my eyes to her boots, sneaking a peak at her face. It was then that I understood-She was the one- the littlest one with all the crazy face lines, the one who beat on the snake-man. The one God had sent for me to follow. I had thought she was a man. She must be a sinner of lust with such short cropped hair. The sides of her head were shaved with a pattern too, like her face.
“What kind of joke- Jester.“ Selka finished with a whisper.
The man was laughing. He squatted down, his eyes starring into mine. I looked at his boots too. They were nice boots.
“Fedos, eh? Where’s your parents?” he asked.
“Her mom’s on that refugee dock. Did you follow me?” Selka said.
“Yes.” I said.
“Oh what a proper little Ammatar.” The man said as he reached out. I let him pat my head. For some reason adults liked to do that. Captain Selka glowered, showing me her wrathful face.
“Look, you just can’t follow strangers.” She said. The echo of boots in the corridor made everyone freeze.
“Jousul, you have to hide her.”
“Where” he shrugged. Gesturing to the only pile of netted cargo. It was tightly packed. I had already checked every crack for fedo. There was at least three vents if I had time to get to the rafters, and something to remove bolts-but here, there was no place to hide.
“Well, have her stand behind you. If she doesn’t move-the commander might not notice her. Just not by that.” She said as she pointed to my neatly herded fedo. A few were moving from the formation and I bent the khumaak to poke at them so the Captain would know that I know what I am about.
She grabbed me and Jousul, I found myself sandwiched between his butt and the wall.
“Just stay still” she hissed at me.
The door squeaked loudly as the door to bay 3 was opened, again. The man who entered did not bother to close it.
“Captain Selka.” He barked. Selka sprang to attention.
“Commander Berkist.” She replied.
“I am assuming Captain Jousul has ‘briefed’ you?”
“Ye-No sir. Just tell me where to pick up the ore.” Selka
“Our orders have changed. You are taking this wreathe hauler to Hama, you’re on salvage.”
“Salvage?” Selka looked at Jousul.
“The Eldar fleet is pressing in and there is a lot of scrap in their wake. Amarrian scrap. We want to pick up the pieces.”
“Thank you sir!”
She stepped forward then. Her hands reaching out. Berkist met them with a weird arm to arm grip. It was like a hug that didn’t quite happen. I felt Jousul relax a little. I could finally turn my head.
“Your not upset on getting a hauler?”
“I would rather be feeding the Amarrians my EMPs.”
“Yeah, I wanted you there too. But you know you two slipped up. Chief Ellido hold’s our future in highest regard. I’ll see you at the wedding.”
“Yes sir. You’ll be on the left.”
“Don’t sit me next to your mother.”
“Too late. She insisted.”
The Commander chuckled, mumbling as he walked back to the door.
He stood in the jam, turning.
“You deserve a destroyer. This is the best-and safest I can do. Now get your crew back on board ASAP. We leave within a turn.””
“A turn? I was told we had three days.”
“A turn. The fleet is pressing into Sarum Prime. We’ll be knocking on the Emperors door in a week.”
“Oh, and one more thing, keep tighter collars on your muscle. Station security was threatening to boot us all because some yahoos decided to help in the Quota hall.”
“We were just taking out the trash sir.”
“Thieves and vagrants-those were his words. Just leave it alone. I already had to listen to an hour about ‘unsanctioned’ fleet shit. Republic are not Thukker. Understood?”
“They can take care of their own damn refugees. Captain Jousul, come with me. We secured some more ammo for your slasher. And there is a report that your gunner is- drinking.”
“Yes sir. They all are sir.” Jousul said.
“No.” Berkist growled.
“Sir, they heard we were pulling out. All the frigate gunners went to make their bets.”
“They better be only betting.” Berkist said as he turned to the door. Jousul trotted to catch up.
“And one more thing-“ Berkist began, but then he stopped. I could see Selka’s stance stiffen. Her eyes followed the gaze of Berkist. I bowed most humbly. What ever he was going to say did not get said. Berkist pointed at me.
“Already taken care of sir.” Selka said.
“I don’t know how.” Berkist added. “The boat for the refugee camps un-docked fifteen minutes ago.”
Selka’s face went long with eyes bulging. Her hand shot out, grabbing my right hand. She jerked it forward, and my symbol of God broke free from it’s cord. My fingers lost it, and it went rolling. Selka pulled me for the door. I reached back for my symbol but I couldn’t make her stop. At the outer bay doors she peeled the khumaak from my fingers and handed it to Jester. He turned his face down, and away.
Selka must know I am no good. I really didn’t know how to herd fedo. And I embarrassed her by being seen when I shouldn’t have been seen. I just didn’t know the ways of space people. I knew the farm and its unspoken rules; when to pull weeds, and when to sleep. Ships and fedo were not of my kind. I trotted, silent. Speaking was forbidden now, of that rule I was sure.
Captain Selka lead me to the refugee’s hall. No one was left, just a man with a mustache sweeping up bits. My mother was gone. I stopped counting the turns then. Tears leaked out the corners of my eyes. I won’t blink. They would all run then. Tears just got you a backhand.
The facility she brought me to had a glass door, carpeted floors. Many people in the brown uniforms walked in and out. Captain Selka spoke with a woman who looked bent over the counter to look at me, assessing.
“What is your name?” she asked.
“Bellia” I said.
The woman typed on her data pad. My hand was lifted to sit on it. It clicked, and an image of my hand appeared on the screen at her desk. A stick with a light was shown in my eye. Selka ordered me to stay still and look at it.
“You are being registered” the woman said.
Mom had told me about this. This place must be where I would get sold properly.
We were guided to another area where there were a dozen or so other people sitting and standing about.
“Here.” Selka said, pointing to one of the puffy chairs. I proceed to dust the chair off for her. It had been very clean though. I don’t know why she needed me to clean it too.
“No I mean sit in it.” She said. Her hand moved to cover her eyes. She peaked at me through those fingers.
I knew better. I wasn’t supposed to sit in view of the masters. Was this a test?
“Just sit, now. Sit!” She said, pointing to the chair again.
I sat. The chair fabric was as soft as a lady’s dress. It squished most pleasantly as I settled into it. On the farm I had a log for a seat. The burs were almost worked off of it. Mom said I would get a real chair when I was done growing. It would not have ever been like this seat.
My eyes started to close. I willed them open. You can’t fall asleep in front of your betters. I stood up. There was now dirt on the seat where I had been.
“Sit back down” Selka said.
I sat again.
Selka sat next to me and pulled out something from the belt pocket.
“Here, eat this.”
It was a clear wrapped packet containing colorful little dots, candy. I looked at her face. Was I really suppose to eat? Selka wasn’t even looking at me. She was focused on her data pad, typing furiously. I was starving. If it was alright for me to sit, maybe it was alright for me to eat? I carefully tore the corner off the package. There were five jelly dots, each a different color. I slipped the orange one into my mouth and closed my eyes-for just a moment. It was too sweet and a little bit sour. I willed myself to not bite. It would last longer if I didn’t bite it up.
“Captain Selka” a brown clad and rather official looking man strode up to us, extending his hand. Selka stood, but she didn’t shake it. She looked at me, then back at him.
“I checked.” The officer said. “The freedom barge is already underway.”
“I know that-idiot. How much will it cost to get her back to her mother.”
“No need to worry about that now. We will take care of her. I just need you to sign here.”
“I want to leave her an endowment.” Selka said. She took out a fold from her many belt pockets, pulling out all the bars and handing them to the man.
“How generous of you.” He said.
I noticed that it was the snake man’s wallet she now held.
Selka took the pen. A man walked in from the corner door. The voices in the room quieted.
“There, that’s the Thukker that robbed me. And almost broke my arm. And see, she even has ‘my’ wallet!” the man shouted. I knew him. It was the Snake face again. One of his eyes was blacked and his left arm was in a sling. All eyes went to the captain. I was glad they weren’t looking at me. I curled down farther into the chair.
The official took the data pad back. Selka had not signed. Her face put on the mask again, the mask of wrath. Snake face pranced forward but he slowed before he got too close. Then he looked twice at the chair as he spotted me.
“I see too, she has kidnapped my claimed Quota, my ‘ward’.” He pointed. Selka turned her glare to the official, then back to Snake.
“What right do you have to Matari children?” Selka said. The official moved between them.
“Now-now, Mr. Pan is a talent scout. His benefactor has been quite generous to the orphans fund.” The official said.
Mr. Pan straightened his tie and raised his hand in welcome to the room of onlookers.
“Everyone here has seen ‘Ollies Orphans’, ‘Mighty Mite-matar’, and ‘Little Sashta’s Freedom’? That’s the kind of flicks my clients are doing. With those eyes, this kid is going to be a star in the Gallente Federation. Food, education, toys-She’ll want for nothing.” He said. “A new face of compassion for the Republic.”
His hand reached for mine, flicking my bag of jelly candy away. I watched them fall in between the seats. His hand was sweaty-hot and a grip more that a bit too tight, crushing the one jelly I managed to hold onto. At least his smile was clean, though he was missing that tooth. He was dressed properly. Master said you could see the quality of a man properly dressed. Snake had paid my mother-I think. This was what it was to be bought.
“You can’t believe him?” Selka looked at the official, and across the rest of the room.
“Don’t worry Captain. There are groups that verify such things. We’ll see to the child’s welfare.”
I could see Selka’s stare; calculating, assessing. Her scary face of wrath was what she offered the room. And she grabbed my other hand.
“Quota,” Selka said.
“I know you. Thukker aren’t part of the Republic. Your kind don’t claim a refugee Quota. You don’t even care. You people are only your own tribe in those Wild Lands. I on the other hand-” Mr. Pan said. But he stopped. Selka had inched more than a bit closer, looking up into his face. He was taller, but at that moment he didn’t seem that way.
“Quota.” Was all Selka replied. She grabbed Mr. Pan’s hand off of mine and twisted him to the floor.
“God damn mother-Thukker!” He screamed. I am very certain the Captain broke his arm this time. As certain as I was that Mr. Pan was going to hell for his blaspheming.
Captain Selka grabbed my hand. She was a ram through the weak fencing of brown clad officials. I had to really trot to keep from falling. I tripped and she pulled me up. My eyes were drooping and fuzzy. I had to shake to open them. The squashed purple jelly slid from my fingers. I reached back as it bounced away. Selka jerked me up again.
“What is wrong?” she asked me. “Are you fool enough to stay with that man? I can assure you he is all lies.”
“Sorry m’Captain. I-stay with you-please? I don’t know, I am so tired.”
“By the Eldars- you have no shoes. And when did you last sleep?”
“When was sundown last?”
“Damn you really are fresh from a planet. There is no dark night on a space station.” Selka said. She looked back. I could see the brown jacket guards coming. Selka turned, and picked me up.
No one had carried me since I was three. I remember having followed mom to the market and having to stay alone by a tree till nightfall for mom to come back for me. She wouldn’t carry me anymore, she said.
I felt light, flying like a bee as we sped through the station. I didn’t know if it was right, but I hugged the Captain. It must have been right. She gripped me tighter.